DOJ review finds lapses in 'drug war' ops commonly punished with suspension

Kristine Joy Patag - Philstar.com
DOJ review finds lapses in 'drug war' ops commonly punished with suspension
This photo shows a memorial with the names of the victims of extra-judicial killings.
Karapatan, Release

MANILA, Philippines — Information released by the Department of Justice from its review of 50 "war on drugs" operations that resulted in deaths showed that most police officers involved were only suspended for lapses, with cops in one case only getting a reprimand.

The DOJ on Wednesday released some information on cases where the Philippine Natioanl Police Internal Affairs Service found administrative liability on the part of law enforcers.

Human Rights Watch Senior Philippines Researcher Carlos Conde earlier pointed out that these cases are a "woefully paltry number considering that more than 7,000 killings by the police have been officially recorded."

National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers chairman Neri Colmenares said the DOJ's "damning" information "only show that the drug war is not the success the Duterte administration paints it to be."

Calling the information that the DOJ released "just the tip of the iceberg", Colmenares said that "all eyes are on the Duterte administration now that the investigations on these deadly irregularities continue even as the International Criminal Court conducts its own inquiry."

Colmenares, who is running for senator in the 2022 polls, is one of the lawyers assisting families of "war on drugs" victims who have raised allegations of crimes against humanity before the ICC.

The National Bureau of Investigation is looking into case records to determine if criminal complaints should also be filed against the police officers involved in the deadly "war on drugs" operations.

Some of the cases that the bureau is probing are for killings that happened in 2016.


A majority of the deaths in the cases — 37 of the 50 — forwarded to the DOJ happened during buy-bust operations. Four people were killed while being served search warrants and two others were killed while being served arrest warrants for a different crime. 

Six people were killed at checkpoints.

According to the DOJ data, the police Internal Affairs Service recommended penalties ranging from a reprimand, varying periods of suspension, demotion, and dismissal from the PNP.

In at least five cases, the suspects were shot at close range, as shown by the presence of gunpowder tattooing on their chest. Cops involved in these operations were suspended for from 60 to 75 days although officers involved in two cases were dismissed from service.

The DOJ also noted that, in at least seven cases, suspects who supposedly shot at cops tested negative in gunpowder paraffin tests. It also noted that, in some cases, records were incomplete.

Only a reprimand over a suspect's death

Suspect Ryan Robosa was killed in a buy-bust operation on Dec. 15, 2016.

He was accused of firing at police operatives, prompting the cops to retaliate, but the DOJ said that records of the case do not support that narrative.

"There are no pre-operation report, coordination form, chain of custody form, ballistics or paraffin test result, or autopsy result on record."

While the IAS found cops were "guilty of grave irregularity in the performance of duty," the involved police officers were only given a reprimand.

15 gunshot wounds and a 31-day suspension

On July 4, 2017, Fred Ifurung was killed in a buy-bust operation in Lal-lo town in Cagayan province.

Police said he had fired at them, forcing them to shoot back.

DOJ observations noted that the suspect sustained 15 gunshot wounds, "particularly on the head, trunk, and upper and lower extremities" but that no ballistics or paraffin test results, Scene of the Crime Operatives or autopsy reports were included in the case files.

Buy-bust operation not supported by documents

Crispin Vedaño was killed in what police said was a buy-bust operation in Bansud, Oriental Mindoro on Jan. 23, 2020.

The victim was also accused of firing at cops, but the DOJ noted there was no autopsy report submitted and that both of Vedaño's hands tested negative for gunpowder nitrates.

The DOJ also said that the cops "did not present any documents to show that there was a legitimate buy-bust operation."

The IAS recommended a six-month suspension for the cops involved.

No imminent threat but still killed

Cops also shot Jessica Albaran on Nov. 30, 2016 in a buy-bust operation in Trento, Agusan del Sur after she allegedly pulled out a gun and shot at them.

"The dactyloscopy examination (fingerprint) report on the victim revealed negative results from latent print, indicating that she did not hold, much less use, a firearm against the police operatives," the DOJ noted.

The IAS regional director also said that Albaran "did not appear to have posed imminent threat to the police operatives."

Police officers invilved in the shooting were demoted one rank.

Suspects Richard Santillan and Gessamyn Casing were also killed in a "spotting operation" in Cainta, Rizal on Dec. 10, 2018. The two were accused of being engaged in several crimes, including the proliferation of illegal drugs.

The DOJ however noted that "IAS found no evidence that the suspects posed any real danger to police operatives."

The suspects also s tested negative for the presence of gunpowder nitrates, while the firearms recovered were also negative of latent prints.

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